Cows play quite a major role in the Torah.
Paroh dreams about 14 of them – their interpretation by Yosef leads him to become the viceroy of Egypt and in turn the reunification of his father and brothers.
Then after weeks of no cows – just like London buses – two come in the same Shabbat. The Eigel Ha Zahav (Golden Calf) and the Para Adumah (Red Heifer)
Now the major role of our first bovine this week cannot be argued. The Golden Calf episode had a major impact on the Jewish people. The luchot (tablets) were smashed and a whole new relationship had to be forged between God and the Jewish people which in many ways mirrored what had happened in Gan Eden with the eating from the tree. (this is a major topic but cannot be addressed in a short article. Rav Ari Kahn (who will be joining us for our weekend of inspiration in May) writes powerfully about this in his wonderful book Explorations on this weeks parsha)
However, the other cow does not seem to be as crucial in the history of our people. Yes, it was a vital part of tumah and taharah (spiritual purity and impurity) and is the quintessential Chok – laws whose understanding are beyond us. In this case the chok is the fact that the red heifer purified those who had become ritually impure by coming in contact with a corpse. Yet those same ashes make those who were pure – impure. However compared to the enormity of the cows in Parohs dreams and the debacle of the Golden calf, in terms of importance to our history – it comes a distant third.
I disagree, in many ways this cow is more relevant than ever as we enter the 21st century – let me explain.
The actual words of the Parah Adumah section begin “Zot chukat haTorah asher tzivah Hashem (this is the ‘chok’ of the Torah that Hashem has commanded) [19:2].” The Ohr Ha Chaim asked a pertinent question – Why didn’t the parsha begin by stating that this is the ‘chok’ of the para adumah or that this is the ‘chok’ of taharah (ritual purity) or tum’ah (ritual impurity)? Why was this ‘chok’ labeled as the ‘chok’ of the entire Torah?
The answer is if a person adheres to this mitzva (commandment), the Torah equates that to adherence to all of the mitzvot. Keeping the ‘chok’ reveals a trusting decision to keep the laws of Hashem taught throughout the entire Torah. Not only the ones that make sense to us, not only the ones that we feel emotional about, the ones that are culturally satisfying – no all of them – the ones that God commanded.
The Torah is our anchor, is our guide. We are not pluralist, we believe in the Divinity of the Torah and the eternity of its message. We need not be scared of this truth, nor be anything other than respectful of others who advocate pluralism but be firm that we do not.
The first cows brought us power and influence. The second cows brought us distance from Hashem and destruction due to the need to experience God in OUR way not the Torah’s. The third cow gives us the answer to our continued survival as a nation – an embrace of the totality of Torah which is the antidote to the Golden Calf and allows us the ability to thrive as Jews in the 21st century